How one drug might be the answer to Kentucky's heroin problem

08/21/2014 08:00 PM

Kentucky state legislators Thursday heard how the drug Vivitrol, a non-opiate injectable, is used in Ohio to treat people addicted to heroin and pain killers. Those addicts who qualify for the program are allowed to take the drug as part of the court process, instead of going to jail.

Hocking County Ohio Municipal Judge, Fred Moses, runs a Vivitrol Drug Court. He told members of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary that only those people who are on probation and have class 3 misdemeanor charges or higher are eligible. They also must have a dependency diagnosis for opioids from a licensed treatment agency, complete a mental health evaluation from a licensed treatment professional and must agree to the program requirements.

Other considerations include drug use history, criminal history, mental health history, medical history and prior treatment episodes.

Methodone and Suboxone have traditionally been used to treat opiate addicts. They are synthetic opiates that copy the effects of real opiates on the brain while the addicts are recovering with counseling.

Unfortunately, some addicts do become dependent on them.

Moses outlined why he chooses to use Vivitrol over Suboxone.

“We get to control it,” said Moses. “It’s a shot, it’s an injection, people can’t use it and there’s no street value to it. You’re not substituting one opiate for another opiate.”

Vivitrol blocks brain receptors from feeling the opiate effects. It eliminates the possibility that an addict could get high on the drug.

Committee co-chair, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, feels it’s something that could be beneficial in fighting the growing heroin epidemic in the state, but how to pay for it is a big question.

Vivitrol can cost as little as $560 every 28 days. Compare that to Suboxone which can cost $256 every 30 days.

“Right now, we’re not sure where that money would come from,” said Westerfield. Still Westerfield said that it’s worth looking into more because he feels like it might be the answer the state has been looking for.

Co-chair, Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, thinks that some of the money could come from not incarcerating low level drug offenders.

“If we can take low level offenders, who, otherwise, are not receiving any benefit to incarceration to low level drug offenses and addiction, we can save that $22,000 a year to incarcerate them and pay for the Vivitrol,” said Tilley.

The Vivitrol program is part of a state-wide project in Ohio that will assess the performance of medication-assisted treatment in drug courts. It’s sponsored by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Ohio Supreme Court.

The State of Ohio had allocated $5 million to the project.


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